Legislative Update: Special Session & Public Safety
On August 8, Governor Bill Lee issued the special session proclamation and presented the Administration's legislative and budget priorities that went before the Tennessee General Assembly during the Special Session on public safety. The Governor's stated priorities focused on keeping Tennessee communities safe, supporting law enforcement, and addressing mental health, while preserving Constitutional rights.
The Legislature convened for the 2023 Public Safety Special Session on August 21. After days of contentious committee hearings and raw emotion, the session came to a chaotic end on August 29 after a long stalemate between the House and the Senate chambers regarding the scop of legislation considered. Over 100 pieces of legislation were filed in each chamber, many without a corresponding sponsor that did not continue this session.
While budgetary proposals passed by each chamber varied significantly, the Senate elected to concur with the House legislation after discussions with House leadership, thereby passing the House version of the appropriations bill. Following a particularly tumultuous floor session, the House swiftly adjourned following the action of the Senate, noting that their remaining calendar was rendered moot as the Senate adjourned without opening the necessary committees to consider companion legislation.
Overall, the legislature passed three bills from Governor Lee’s legislative package and additional funding to support public safety measures and mental health services. Legislation and funding passed includes:
- SB7086/HB7013: Requires court clerks to notify the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation of the final disposition of criminal cases within 72 hours.
- SB7088/HB7041: Requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to submit an annual report on child and human trafficking crimes and trends in Tennessee to House and Senate leadership by December 1, 2023.
- SB7085/HB7012: Directs the Department of Safety to provide free firearm locks to Tennessee residents upon request, and exempts the retail sale of firearm safes and firearm safety devices from sales and use taxes beginning November 1, 2023.
- SB7089/HB7070: Makes appropriations sufficient for the payment of any lawful expenses of special session, and makes other related appropriations.
Some called the Special Session a success while others viewed the process as a complete waste of time and tax dollars.
In a press conference following adjournment, Governor Lee stated that he was encouraged by progress made during Special Session and related public engagement, but acknowledged there is still work to be done on the issue of public safety. He did not specify whether his Administration will continue to push the remaining public safety bills on his agenda, or any alternative legislation, when the legislature reconvenes in January.